Aboard Delta Flight 237, July 2, 2012

Eli, Nell, and Seth have all written about their feelings on our departure from Rome. I’ve found this difficult to write about. The past few weeks have been so packed with events and emotions that it’s been hard to pinpoint my thoughts and feelings. In many ways, our year abroad was the culmination of travel plans I made back in 1989 – an intended junior year abroad in Florence that I had to cancel due to family illness. The culmination of such a long history of hopes and expectations is hard to encapsulate in words.

But there’s nothing like a ten hour flight to provide the mental space I need.

In truth, it’s fitting that I should write our final blog post (number 104!). Last spring, when we were planning our trip, I suggested we keep a family blog about our year in Rome. Initially, we thought that it would be a great way to stay in touch with family and friends back home and elsewhere. And it seemed like a great format for the kids to learn a new way to express themselves in writing.

But in the end, we’ve found ourselves writing more for ourselves than anything else. The blog has become our journal, with words and images that we want to remember, and I believe that these pages will help keep this year alive for us in years to come.

Our final days in Rome were bittersweet. As Nell wrote in her recent post, we don’t really feel like we are saying goodbye to the city and our friends here, because we know we will be back. Two different Roman expat friends, who have seen many short-term visitors come and go, affirmed this for us, telling us that they believe that we are one of those families that really truly will be back early and often. That makes everything feel a lot easier, though it has not precluded tears from all of us. And we did have some especially sad goodbyes that were most likely forever, including our wonderful housekeeper Maria, who is moving back to Romania. Though Maria has invited us to visit her in Romania, so who knows?

It has been quite a week. Since our return from Toscana on Wednesday, we have cheered Italy in the EuroCup (a tremendous win in the semis and a trouncing in the finals). We have enjoyed lovely goodbye dinners, including a fantastic meal hosted by our friends Shannon and Matthew, carry-in pizza on the terrace with Shannon, Matthew, Andrew, and their kids that was accompanied by a fireworks show at Castel St-Angelo, and Pizzerium pizza on our terrace followed by I Mannari gelato brought by Hisham, Maria, Laith, and Aden.

We’ve also treated ourselves to several great meals out. All year, the kids have heard us raving about the restaurant Roscioli (see Restaurant post). Nell was especially excited to go because they are famous for their tagliolini cacio e pepe, her favorite Roman dish (pasta with a deceptively simple sauce made from sheep cheese and pepper  – basically, Roman comfort food). She loved it – but adored her gorgeous caprese salad even more. Eli, true to form, enjoyed one last great steak. And for our last lunch on Saturday we went to Cantina Cantinari, the little restaurant serving food from the Le Marche regione, which we first tried last August when Robert and Virginia visited from Montreal. I was craving one last seafood fix before heading to the Midwest, and it was perfect, followed by a gelato at I Caruso.

We awoke Sunday (yesterday) to the news that our flight was delayed by 6 hours, ruining our Detroit connection. This was a stroke of luck, in fact, because we were able to rebook for today, allowing us to watch the EuroCup final in Italy. Our landlords, ever generous, let us stay in the apartment, and we treated ourselves to a second last lunch, this time at our favorite Sicilian restaurant. And we had the opportunity to enjoy one last gelato at Il Gelato, which our beloved Rocco wouldn’t let us pay for.

In a journal article or book, it’s customary to end with an Acknowledgments section. As that is the style of writing I know best, here goes.

First, the Romans. Thank you for teaching us that even when things don’t work quite right (or at all), everything still works out okay. Thank you for helping us to see that we don’t need to always be rushing around, or stressing out about being on time (okay, that is one that will be hard to avoid in the Midwest). Thank you for tolerating our weak Italian, correcting us gently (my favorite was when I tried to order lamb and the server laughingly told me that I’d just ordered a hug). Your warmth, hospitality, and generosity are world-class, along with your food, sights, light, colors, and history.

Second, all of our new friends. In a city like Rome, foreigners are always coming and going. For the kids and parents at our international school, expats and Italians alike, it is commonplace for children to make dear friends and then have those friends depart – and for their parents to do the same. Thank you all for opening up your lives to all four of us, despite our lack of longevity in the city. You all made this year especially meaningful and enriched for us. You’ll be seeing us again soon!

Third, our jobs. We are so fortunate to have careers that afforded us the flexibility to travel abroad for a year. And we are equally fortunate to have colleagues who not only helped to pick up the slack, but who so warmly cheered us on. We are excited to see you again over the next few weeks!

Fourth, our students.  From dissertation defenses where our Skype connections failed, to meetings with us when it was late at night Rome time and Seth or I were clearly not at our best… you were all troupers, and we are so looking forward to being in the same time zone with you. We truly can’t thank you enough for being so patient, and we fervently hope that sabbaticals still exist by the time you are professors!

Fifth, our family and friends ‘back home’. So many of you have made such a great effort to stay in touch with us: emailing, Skyping, commenting on the blog or on Facebook, sending snail mail, and visiting! It makes our homecoming so much easier to contemplate – we are so excited to see you!

Sixth, I want to thank my parents. My mom always loved Italy; it was a place that was very special to her. Long before I ever came to Italy, I loved it through her eyes. And though I was never able to travel to Italy with my mom, I thought of her and my dad every day as I soaked up the winter sunshine on our terrace. They would have really enjoyed watching us love this year. Seth’s mom, and our grandmothers Rosie and Sara, would have too.

Finally, I want to thank Seth, Eli, and Nell. I would never have been brave enough to pick up our family and move to Rome if it weren’t for Seth. He is not intimidated by travel… He loves the challenge of navigating new languages and cultures, and cultivating new friendships. I was inspired by his all-encompassing embracing of our year away. And the kids were the best travel companions imaginable, in every possible way. At the end of her family’s sabbatical last year, my friend Stacy described their family as having become a well-oiled machine. I know exactly what she means.

I don’t think we will know what this year really meant to us for a long time to come. Last night, Eli said that maybe he’d take a gap year or a year abroad in college in Rome, meet someone, and get married and move to Rome. That sounds like a good idea to me.

– Jenny